Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Puzzling Case[1] of R.: Homosexual, Transsexual, Transgendered or What?

R. consulted me, a Priest/Psychologist, after reading some Sexuality articles on my Website. Even after a series of frustrating and unhappy meetings with well-meaning, but somewhat uninformed Catholic priests, R. was still seeking some kind of functional relationship with the Church from which she felt estranged. It is difficult, presuming sensitivities and the lack of an absolute judgment reserved to the Lord alone, to know how to refer to R. Should I say “he” or “she”? While R. was born with XY Chromosomal structures (male), R’s behavioral history has been functionally feminine, as if there were a basic XX Chromosomal structure (female). I opted, for psychological and compassionate reasons to use female pronouns in my dealings with and writing about R.

R. was born routinely, but from a mother whose estrogen levels, R. claims, “surged” to 3 or 4 times the normal pregnancy level. This factor has not been identified by anyone (so far) as important in the ultimate personality formation of R. Is it Nature? Or Nurture? Or some kind of mix? The infant was born with undescended testicles and normal phallus and was immediately identified as a male child. It is important to state that all data in this article are exclusively from R. as she shared the specifics of her life via e-mail. Truth or falsity or calibrations thereof are not really known. Any prudent appraiser must be aware of the possibility of distortion or exaggeration. It would be appropriate to remember the ancient wisdom: Quidquid percipitur, percipitur secundum modum percipientis (What is perceived, is perceived according to the mode of the perceiver). How did (and does) R. see her “reality”? Through what lens?

One of the shrewd observations of Freud was his axiom that “things are rarely only what they seem.” It is difficult surely to be apodictic about the underlying factors of the symptoms listed below but it is very clear that R. suffers from pain, confusion and anger. And it is in that emotional/ spiritual area in where the Church can be helpful.

After an early childhood which was troubled with difficulty interacting with male children, the adolescent R. wondered whether or not he was homosexual. He did private research and began questioning his possible transsexuality. He had no body hair, and unlike his brothers hardly ever shaved. His voice did not “shift” as those of his peers. He grew “breasts” in college while his skeletal structure did not “masculinize”. He did poorly as an undergraduate, dropped out of college and attempted suicide by overdosing with sleeping pills. All medical attempts to move him to a more male level failed. Even massive doses of testosterone injections made no difference. He remained gender dysphoric.

Gradually, he moved emotionally and socially to “presenting” himself as a woman. The word “presentation” is significant in that nowhere does she use the common parlance of the transsexual. The usual TS (transsexual) refers to self as a “woman trapped in the body of a man” or vice versa. R’s self concept at least hints that this has been a tentative move. Surgery or estrogen injections are not mentioned. There were weak attempts in the past to enter the male/masculinity world with the help of R’s father. It almost sounds like she “backed” into her ambiguous sexual identity. It is also significant in such a self presentation, that she dresses more as a unisexual person. She does not own a single dress or high heels. She wears male underpants alleging this to be a widespread practice among young contemporary women. Her hair is long. However, in her present role as a “presenting” woman, she does not have to compete with males or engage in any form of male to male quasi-combat/competition. She can now have friends of both sexes without the stress of her earlier life.

She went back to college “presenting” as a woman, gained a Master’s degree, and is now enrolled in a Ph.D. program. The current “she” insists that she is presently peaceful, more compassionate, more able to help others and more at ease with herself. However, R wrote me basically for one reason: “The only worry I have is with my Church which from what little I have been able to find, seems to say I am condemned for what I am doing. …….my Church has seemingly isolated and exiled me…I have tried for many years (to assume the male role) and I failed every single time.”

So, what will a priest (who is a psychologist) say about this tangle? There can be no question, from a Catholic point of view, of the value of the soul of R. Jesus died for her as He did for millions and millions of others, in a most horrific manner, on a cross around two thousand years ago. Her value, before God, is beyond any doubt. Hence, she is to be treated with compassion and sensitivity and never to be mocked. It is essential that, at least cognitively, she knows this. It is unfortunately possible that an emotional awareness of this spiritual truth might evade her because of her interior confusion. But, condemned? In no way does her Church condemn her. Frown perhaps, but with loving hope of her moral stabilization.

Further, one might, with some degree of psychological sophistication, understand that much of what is so socially abnormal, is, in fact, a response to a huge inner conflict probably far beyond the awareness of even the conflicted person. Unconsciously, the conflicted one seeks a compromise solution to achieve some kind of inner peace—to be freed from the terrible inner turbulence which tormented her[2]. The external “anomaly”, weird as it appears to the average person, can be at least a temporary comparative “bliss” and relief to R.

In Catholic thinking, there can be a basic tension between what is considered to be objectively sinful (intrinsically evil) and that which is considered to be subjectively acceptable to the troubled person in terms of her personal insight or pressure or experience. Moral guilt might well (before God) be alleviated by subjective tensions or drives. Hence, a common pastoral practice is to throw the possible moral guilt (or judgment) back on the Mercy of God --- a variation on how “God sees it.” Of course, each of us has to bear personal responsibility to some degree but each of us can expect some understanding from the Lord. But how far does such an approach go? Where is the “mix”? Well then, what is viewed as “objectively evil” by Catholics? Seeing the official positions might throw some light on a possible pastoral approach to R. and similarly conflicted persons.

It is the position of the Church that the plan of God is laid out very clearly in Scripture (beginning with the Genesis blueprint: “Male and Female He made them”). There are, in spite of the protestations of radical feminists, substantive differences between the sexes. The French had a word for it: “Vive la Difference!” The difference is far beyond the anatomical, the biological, and the psychological. It is profoundly teleological, i.e. it has meaning and Divinely planned function. Hence to disguise or mask the Scheme of God is a violation of His Will. Even in terms of how we dress. In Deut. 22,5, it is plainly taught that men who dress in women’s clothes are “Toevah” or abominable, disgusting before God. This is the only place in Scripture where the problem of Transvestism is addressed, but it is addressed in terms of violating the Divine Plan.

Obviously (to most people of Faith), sexual behavior of the same-sex level blatantly transgresses God’s plan. Twice in Leviticus the act of two men lying with each other “as if with women” is unequivocally condemned. Such behavior, similarly, is explicitly blacklisted by the Blessed Apostle Paul in Romans, 1 Cor. and 1 Timothy. Incidentally, nothing is said of orientation or inner feeling, even of inner compulsion. The traditionally strong moral condemnatory position, prima facie, (particularly in Judaism) is specifically about external behavior[3]. Additionally, the whole tradition of Catholicism has officially supported the condemnation of same-sex behavior, as has most of mainline Christianity, and traditional Judaism and Islam as well.

Were conflicted persons to seek relief from SRA (surgical re-assignment), objectively he sins because of an act of unnecessary significant mutilation, unlike excision of a diseased appendix, uterus or gangrenous leg where excision or amputation is vital for the survival of the person. If one applies the notion of subjective morality here, it might be possible to understand the behavior of the conflicted person. It is also interesting to note that many of the Centers which had performed the so-called sex change operations have slowed down their previous enthusiasm. Where before the axiom was “since we can’t change the psyche to fit the soma, we will change the soma to fit the psyche,” the stance is presently more cautious. There have been too many unsatisfactory consequences to the radical SRA with a multitude of new maladapted cocktail waitresses, alcoholics, melancholies, suicides or attempted suicides and street prostitutes. There have been multitudinous serious failures in adaptation to the “new” personhood. Of course, there are a few “stars” like Christine Jorgensen, Renee Richards and Jan Morris. But out of this statistically minimal population, it has been mostly deep depressions and enormous regrets. Of course, it is deeply puzzling since there does exist huge gender dysphoria in this unhappy group before psychological and medical intervention. For the most part, however, it is clear that the SRA has very serious inherent reasons for caution.

There was the recent misfortune of a new SRA Australian person suing the medical profession (post surgery) since he/she claims that he was not “rational” when requesting the procedure. The aftermath has been devastating and irreversible. He is now doomed to living as a mutilated male and reports deep unhappiness. However, he blames others for his misery! He claims that they should have seen his “irrationality”. Perhaps, medical personnel mean well and perhaps the procedure was done by well-intentioned, tender-hearted surgeons whose goals are to alleviate human suffering. But good intentions in the face of very hard realities ought to be rigorously rethought.

Arno Karlen points out in his monumental “Sexuality and Homosexuality”[4] that SRA persons are well aware (in their own depth levels) of their own XX or XY chromosomal structure, regardless of what society or the law proclaims or what public bathroom they use. When a man has been castrated and equipped with a vagina, is this person really a woman now? Karlen suggests that only he (the patient) thinks so - and then with reservations. Unconsciously, the “new” re-make knows that chromosomes don’t ever change.

Dr Paul McHugh, a psychiatrist from Johns Hopkins Hospital, a leading pioneer Institution in the study and research of transsexuality, wrote in his article “Sex Change”[5] that the practice of SRA is under deep scrutiny at that Institution. He suggests that many bad judgments were made and that the staff would have been more helpful if they worked on psyches rather than on gonads. The pathetic experience of the aging transsexual with his coarsening male features protruding from under the desperate fake female mask has made many a SRA surgeon think again. The forced and highly contrived TS[6] struggle to maintain the microbehaviors so automatically and effortlessly learned by little females is sad to observe. These second thoughts of Medicine occur after many years of observation and evaluation of sex change adaptation. Are clinicians catching up with Catholic wisdom? Is it a case of “the King has no clothes on”? Have SRA people been simply missing the obvious all these years? Aren’t people wired for gender?

In any event, R. has factually violated some norms of Catholic morality and has as such committed, at least, objective sin and, at present, intends so to remain. How the good Lord judges her is not within human comprehension. Our approach for ostensibly good hearted people[7] like R. is simply “Take the next best possible step.” Her decision does not absolve her from basic obligations of worship. This means that R. should attend the Holy Mass every Sunday, even as a “presenting” woman. I suggest her attending Mass even during the week when, perhaps, she can make quieter contact with Jesus. I suggest that she begin serious affective[8] prayer with strong emphasis on listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit of God. I suggest that she investigate the “sense” of the Mother of God wherein R. might experience the beauty and joy of accepting God’s Holy Will. R. needs to read spiritual literature chosen with the help of some spiritual director who is knowledgeable and realistically accepting. Of course, R. needs to talk with someone who can supportively challenge her without scolding and judgment. She needs to know that God does not give up on us! In His own time, He will touch R. with His calming grace.

She looked me up by e-mail which was a good idea. Unfortunately, for practical reasons, I cannot be her face-to-face guide. I will pray for R. that she will find peace and God and a capable spiritual director. Whether she is homosexual (same-sex attracted), transsexual, transgendered --in a sense-- is secondary. Primarily, she needs Hope and a surety that God will never desert her even in the darkest of her times.

[1] I use the word “case” reluctantly since it has such a cold clinical sound to it. This study involves a human being with a serious problem and in no way do I belittle the pain by using such a technical sounding term.
[2] Perhaps, this “torment” is discoverable only by depth pastoral therapy
[3] Jesus would include the fantasies of “lust” as sinful, in se, even without external behavior. There is a moral dimension even should the “activity” be restricted solely within the mind.
[4] W.W. Norton, New York City
[5] “First Things” New York, 2005.
[6] transsexual
[7] R. did try valiantly, according to her testimony, to assume the male role
[8] Meaning: great opening of the heart to God

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